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Am I eligible if I am a legal immigrant?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed March 2023

The SNAP eligibility rules for immigrants and refugees are very complicated. The SNAP eligibility rules affecting immigrants are different from cash assistance and MassHealth rules. See the chart in Appendix D.

If you fall into one of the three groups below, you may qualify for SNAP. See 106 C.M.R. §§ 362.220-362.240 But for some categories of immigrants, you may also need to wait five years for SNAP benefits.

GROUP 1: Refugees, asylees and others who have fled persecution

You qualify under the SNAP eligibility requirements if you:

  • Entered the U.S. as a refugee,
  • Granted asylum after entering the U.S.,
  • Granted withholding of deportation or removal,
  • A Cuban/Haitian entrant—defined as a national of Cuba or of Haiti granted humanitarian parole has a pending application for asylum, is in removal proceedings or legal permanent resident status through special federal laws for Cubans and Haitians.
  • A Vietnamese Amerasian immigrant (offspring of a U.S. citizen conceived during the Vietnam war),
  • A victim of trafficking in persons (slavery or sex trafficking) and has applied for status under a special process with the Department of Health and Human Services, or
  • Nationals of Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine who were granted certain legal statuses including those with Special Immigrant Visas (SIV), Humanitarian Parole or other special categories recently authorized by Congress.

If your immigration status falls under one of the above, there is NO five-year waiting period. That is if you got a green card (LPR status) after you had one of these refugee-type statuses.

GROUP 2: Lawful permanent residents (“green card” holders), parolees and battered immigrants

You may qualify under the SNAP rules if you are:

  • A lawful permanent resident (LPR), often called a “green card holder,”
  • Granted parolee status for one year or longer, a status generally based on humanitarian or public interest reasons, with the exception of certain Cuban, Haitian, Afghan, Iraq and Ukrainian evacuees who have special status as parolees – see above) or, 
  • Battered immigrant who meets the requirements for battered immigrants in What are the special immigrant rules for battered immigrants?

Five year waiting period and exceptions for Group 2 immigrants:  Unfortunately, under federal law, some of the qualified immigrants listed above may need to wait five years in status to qualify for SNAP. The five years starts from the date you entered into "qualified" status, and includes the time the immigrant had parole or a pending VAWA before getting LPR status.

 There are important exceptions. There is NO five year wait for:

  • An immigrant child under age 18, 
  • An immigrant who is blind or has a severe disability and is receiving a state or federal disability benefit. See How do I show DTA I am disabled? or
  • An immigrant with 40 qualifying quarters of work history. See How does my work history help so I don’t wait five years for SNAP?
  • An immigrant from Haiti, Cuba, Iraq, Afghanistan, or Ukraine who was granted humanitarian parole, a Special Immigrant Visa or other special statuses for nationals from these countries (see below).


GROUP 3: Immigrants with other special statuses

You meet the SNAP eligibility requirements, without the 5-year waiting period, if you:

  • are a Native American born in Canada or Mexico (Native Americans born in the U.S. are already U.S. citizens),
  • were a Hmong or Highland Laotian tribe member during the Vietnam war or are the spouse, surviving spouse or unmarried dependent child of a tribe member, or
  • are a veteran of the U.S. military, an active duty service member, or the spouse, widow or dependent of a veteran or active duty service member lawfully residing in the U.S. (even if not an LPR). See 106 C.M.R. § 362.240(A) for a list of immigrants considered to be lawfully residing in the U.S.

Immigrants who are not SNAP eligible

Unless you fall within one of the above three groups, you are not eligible for SNAP for yourself. See 106 C.M.R. § 362.220(D)-(G).  You may still file an application for U.S. citizen or qualified immigrant dependents who meet the SNAP eligibility rules. Your income will count in determining their benefits, but you will not receive any benefits for yourself. 

Examples of ineligible immigrants include:

  • Immigrant adults with LPR or parole status with less than 5 years in qualified status who do not meet the special exceptions above for certain countries, and are not disabled nor have 40 quarters of countable work history. See Am I eligible if I am a legal immigrant?
  • Immigrants lawfully present or have work authorization under other provisions of federal immigration law but are not "qualified" immigrants. This may include applicants for asylum, applicants for adjustment (a relative or employer petition), immigrants granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS), or other statuses.
  • An immigrant who is out-of-status or is undocumented, or
  • An immigrant with a “non-immigrant visa” such as a college student, visitor/tourist, diplomat or business visa.

See Can my children get benefits if I am an ineligible immigrant?  for how ineligible immigrant parents can apply for eligible children, and How does DTA count the income of an ineligible immigrant?  for a description of how income of ineligible immigrants is counted to the rest of the household.


Resources and Trouble Shooting Tips:

Immigration documents: For copies of USCIS documents and a key to the USCIS immigration codes, see materials produced by National Immigration Law Center available at NILC.org/issues/economic-support/updatepage/

Cuban and Haitian Nationals:  DTA's Online Guide, includes extensive guidance on the SNAP and cash eligibility of Cuban and Haitian entrants. See Appendix G. Note that Haitians and Cubans with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) may still qualify for SNAP if they entered or were granted other statuses, even if they have TPS.

For information on the range of federal benefits available to Cuban or Haitian nationals who have pending asylum, humanitarian parole or are in removal proceeds, see also US Office of Refugee Resettlement’s Fact Sheet, Benefits for Cuban Haitian Entrants  See also US ACF Policy letter on ORR Services for Cubans and Haitians without Work Authorization, Memo 19-06 of August 19, 2019

Afghan and Iraq Special Immigrant Status and Parolees: DTA’s Online Guide includes extensive guidance on the SNAP and cash eligibility of Iraq Afghan nationals and their dependents (spouses and children). See Appendix G. See also USDA guidance re Afghan nationals issued October 15, 2021 and updated 1/5/23.

Ukrainian humanitarian parolees: DTA’s Online Guide includes extensive guidance on the SNAP and cash eligibility of Ukrainian parolees. parolees. See Appendix G. Note that Ukrainians paroled into the U.S. on or after February 24, 2022 are also eligible for SNAP and other federal benefits, regardless of the length of their humanitarian parole. See USDA guidance issued June 7, 2022  

Pending Verification: If DTA has sent a request to USCIS for verification of your immigration status and that request is pending, DTA should issue SNAP benefits for up to 6 months pending the results (if the immigrant meets the other eligibility rules). 7 C.F.R. §273.2(f)(1)(ii)(B)(3) and 106 C.M.R. §362.220(C). If your documents are lost or stolen, contact Legal Services or an immigration specialist who can help you get replacement documents from USCIS and also provide an affidavit (sworn statement) on your status.

Expired documents: An expired document does not mean immigrant’s legal status has expired. The DTA worker should presume the immigrant may still have current legal status and do SAVE check. DTA Transitions FYI pg 9 (Oct. 2007)

Fixing incorrect immigration information: USCIS has a special process to correct wrong or incomplete information in SAVE. See USCIS.gov/save. You can also check your status here: USCIS.gov/save/casecheck However, you should work with an immigration specialist if you need to correct the information USCIS.

​DTA Online Guide: See Appendix G for links to the DTA’s BEACON 5 Online Guide for this section.  

Show DTA Policy Guidance

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